Baked Mozzarella Pesto Chicken with Cherry Tomato Quinoa + Green Beans
Why we love it:
- 11⁄4 pounds Chicken Breast (boneless skinless)
- 6 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (most of a soft fresh ball, use a little more or less and save the rest for another dish)
- 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt (divided)
- 1⁄4 teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1 cup Quinoa
- 2 cups Water
- 11⁄2 bunches Basil
- 3 Tablespoons Pine Nuts
- 1⁄2 cup Parmesan Cheese (grated)
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1⁄2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3⁄4 teaspoon Cider Vinegar
- 1 pound Green Beans
- 1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
- 1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
1. PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 400 DEGREES
2. CHICKEN POCKET
Place the chicken breasts on a work surface. Using a sharp paring knife, make a deep pocket in the side of each piece. If the tender is attached, make the pocket in the side that does not have the tender on it, so the tender will flap across, helping to close the pocket. If it is not attached, it’s still preferred to make the incision on the same side, but sometimes you can’t tell which that is. Start about ½ inch away from the top of the chicken breast, where it’s thickest. Carefully, wiggle the knife in and down to the thinner edge.
Repeat with the remaining pieces. Prop them all open a bit on a lined baking sheet or 9x13 baking dish. Wash your hands and clean the work surface.
Slice the mozzarella into thin pieces, about ¼” thick. You’ll want about 1 slice per chicken breast. Sprinkle the chicken, inside the pocket and out, with about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Stuff the chicken with mozzarella, filling it evenly and generously, but when you pull the top flap back over to lay the piece flat, you don’t want anything spilling out as it will just be wasted on the pan. Also, be careful not to touch any mozzarella you might not fit in to the chicken - this would contaminate it and you’ll have to throw it out for safety.
When stuffed, pat the pieces back into shape, sealing up the pocket. Place the pan into the oven and roast for 10 minutes while you make the quinoa and pesto.
Combine 1 cup quinoa, 2 cups water, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a medium pot. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. When boiling, stir and reduce to medium so the water is simmering. Cover partially, and cook for 15-16 minutes total, stirring occasionally. When it’s done, it will be fluffy and tender. Turn off the heat, stir once, cover and set aside.
Remove the basil leaves and tender stems from the bunch. Run under water and shake most of the excess off. Tear or chop once or twice into smaller pieces.
In a blender or food processor, place the pine nuts. Add ½ cup parmesan cheese, 2 garlic cloves and ½ teaspoon of salt, then pulse until finely ground, about 1 minute. Add the basil and with the motor running, add oil in a slow and steady stream until pesto is mostly smooth, with just a few flecks of green, about 1 minute.
Taste the pesto and consider adding another pinch of salt or a ¼ teaspoon of cider vinegar. Add the vinegar if it seems flat or needs a boost.
When pesto is done and chicken has been cooking for at least 10 minutes, slide the pan from the oven. Use a clean spoon and put about 1 Tablespoon of pesto on the top of each chicken breast (don’t touch the meat then dip the spoon back in the pesto...it will contaminate the pesto!). Once each has a dollop on it, use the back of the spoon to spread it out into a nice thick coating, adding a little more with a clean utensil if desired.
Return chicken to the oven and bake for another 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken breasts.
7. GREEN BEANS
Meanwhile, trim the stem end of the green beans and place them in a steamer basket in a medium pot. Fill the pot with 1” of water and cover. Set over high heat and steam for about 5 minutes until the beans are bright green and crisp tender. Toss in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of butter and a pinch of salt, both to taste.
Toss the warm quinoa with some whole or halved cherry tomatoes. Add a tablespoon of olive oil or butter and toss to combine. Splash it with ½ teaspoon cider vinegar or a squeeze of lemon if you have a piece that needs using up.
When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool for 2-5 minutes, this helps the mozzarella set up so it’s melty and delicious but doesn’t all run out from the center. Slice into thick pieces through the center of the breast to show off that filing. Plate with a scoop of quinoa and some green beans. Serve with extra pesto as desired.